I’m sorry to post this a day late, but I felt rather tired, as I did not get much sleep on Sunday night, and I could not focus on completing it; I decided not to skip this post because I figured, “better late than never.”
I talked about the original Fantasia before, but today I will talk about its sequel, which was 60 years in the making.
As the original Fantasia was being developed, Walt Disney intended for it to be a perpetual entertainment experience. In other words, people it would be regularly rereleased with new segments replacing some of the old ones. According to Wikipedia: “Disney had wanted Fantasia to be an ongoing project, with a new edition being released every few years. His plan was to substitute one of the original segments with a new one as it was complete, so the viewer would always see a new version of the film. From January to August 1941, story material was developed based on additional pieces, including Ride of the Valkyries by Richard Wagner, The Swan of Tuonela by Jean Sibelius, Invitation to the Dance by Carl Maria von Weber, Flight of the Bumblebee by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov,.”
However, that would never happen. There were many reasons. First, Disney wanted to release Fantasia as part of a roadshow exhibition. However, his distributor, RKO Radio Pictures, refused to handle the film because of its length (124 minutes) and because money, materials, and time required to install the new Fantasound sound system in the theaters. RKO allowed Disney to distribute the film himself. However, due to the limited release (Fantasia played in only thirteen different roadshow engagements), the fact that the film couldn’t be released in Europe because of World War II, and high costs, the film failed to turn a profit. The plans to update Fantasia were cancelled. Disney did make two films consisting of musical segments, Make Mine Music (1946) and Melody Time (1948), but they were not true updates to Fantasia, and were different in style.
Disney’s nephew, Roy E. Disney, however, belatedly fulfilled his uncle’s dream by producing Fantasia 2000, which opened in IMAX theaters on January 1, 2000 (mirroring the special road hshow release of the original). The film featured 7 new segments plus the return of The Sorcerer’s Apprentice; instead of having one host, each segment had a different host or hosts.
The film begins with a compilation of scenes from the original Fantasia with Deems Taylor’s introduction heard in voice-over, and then the first number is Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, which acompanies a story of abstract butterflies fleeing their more sinister counterparts; this segment mirrors the abstract animation of the Tocatta and Fugue from the original.
The second segment uses the music of Ottorino Respighi’s Pines of Rome to tell the story of a pod of humpback whales who can fly. Steve Martin formally welcomes the audience to the film, and then the film changes its focus to violinist Itzhak Perlman who introduces the segment.
The third segements features the jazzy Rhapsody in Blue, the signature piece of George Gershwin, which tells the story of four New Yorkers (drawn in the style of caracaturist Al Hirschfeld) during the Great Depression who all have different dreams: Duke, a construction worker who longs to be a drummer for a jazz band; Jobless Joe, who wants a job; Rachel; a little girl who wants nothing more than to spend more time with her busy parents; and John, who wants to leave his overly demanding wife. It is introduced by music producer and mogul Quincy Jones who is accompanied by the piece’s pianist.
Next, Bette Midler gives the viewer information on several pieces and concepts that were considered for a new Fantasia, but they never made it to the screen. Eventually, the Disney animators chose to Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale, The Steadfast Tin Soldier, but struggled to find the right music for it, finally settling on Dmitri Shostakovich’s Second Piano Concerto. First composed in 1957, it is the newest piece in any of the Fantasia films.
Next, James Earl Jones introduces the Finale of The Carnival of Animals by Camille Saint-Saens. This piece answers the age-old question “What happens if you give a yo-yo to a flock of flamingos?” It’s definitely the funniest piece in the film.
Next, Penn and Teller introduce The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, the only returning piece from the original Fantasia.
Next, James Levine introduces a piece featuring Donald Duck, The first four Marches of Edward Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance set to the biblical story of Noah’s Ark, featuring Donald as Noah’s assistance.
Finally Angela Lansbury introduces, Igor Stravinky’s Firebird Suite. This segments features a wood sprite bringing a forest back to life after the winter, but then she awakens the Firebird, who lives in a volcano…
While, I don’t think that Fantasia 2000 matches the original, I still feel it’s a worthy feat, with the right amount of diversity, style, and tone. I wish that Disney would make another one, but I can’t see that happening anytime soon.